Career Advice For Developers

Dear Developers, Here’s Some Advice For Your Career

Over the past 5 years I’ve had the privilege of working directly with web developers and software programmers. In that time, I’ve also interviewed and worked with a number of developers, along with managed and lead the development team at iThemes.

I can safely say, it’s been both one of the delights of my work life as well as an ongoing challenge as I’m not a developer by any stretch of the imagination.

So when I think about all of my experiences working with and getting to know developers, two big things stand out to me about you:

  1. No two developers are exactly the same. You’re all unique in your own quirky way. And I love and cherish that about you.
  2. I thoroughly love being a part of building and launching things with you. You do things I can’t. You can actually build all the things we dream about together.

With all that in mind, I’ve wanted to expand on my career advice series with a focused one for developers. (I even let people vote on what to write next and this one got a lot of votes.)

So here is my outline aka my Career Advice for Developers …. these are bigger keys and principles (10 in fact) that as I look back at all the devs I’ve known stick out to me to help you relate to the rest of the world and make the most of your talents and time:

  1. Build your portfolio of cool projects that work. Employers (and clients) want to see stuff that shows you can actually do things with the skills you list on your resume. Projects, like nothing else, are amazing for this.
  2. Get involved and contribute to an open source project. I’ve personally lived this advice through WordPress. The community is huge and my contributions to it in some of the early days propelled my career (and helped me launch iThemes). This blends learning and networking, while having a project to show off.
  3. Remember, always & forever: It’s all about people. I love geeks because you’re brilliant … but you’re not always the most social creatures. Without people, your code is just an academic exercise. It’s about your customers-users and your team. Ignore this at your own peril and lasting joy and happiness.
  4. Good communication skills are almost as valuable and important as programming. You can build anything, but if you can’t communicate with others — in their terms and language you’re going to struggle mightily. Work continuously, tirelessly on learning how to communicate with the non-geek, dummies of the world like me.
  5. Ship. Ship your code. Be known as someone who ships good code and iterates fast to make it even better. Understand what a version 1 is. Beware of perfectionism, it’s evil and is a farce that can kill your career. Be someone of action and execution, not just a daydreamer or academic who just talks about theory and what could be but never produces. Finish the projects you start and ship them.
  6. Park your arrogance at the door. This is usually a hindrance to shipping, by the way. The best coders don’t have to tell me they were great. They let their code speak for itself. The best coders I’ve known have quiet confidence and check their ego at the door for the greater good. These are the developers people yearn to work with. Show up. Do the work. Ship. And the glory will come.
  7. Get out from behind a computer screen and meet people. Learn how to network with people, not just equipment. Go to conferences, workshops, Startup Weekends … or anywhere the people and places you want to work for and with are also hanging out. Introduce yourself, talk about them and their company, then the door will open to talk about your work. At some point, try to do a talk or presentation. All of the above allows you to also practice your social and communication skills.
  8. Make sure you power down regularly. We all need to rest and recharge. There will always be deadlines, milestones, and a feature list to chase. Figure out what is the key to how you like to rest and recharge. Then schedule it. Give people plenty of notice and do something that almost forces you to actually take the time off (buying plane tickets, etc). If you don’t truly power down you’re a great candidate for burnout. And that’s no good for anyone.
  9. Always, always, always be learning and exploring. This is also great life advice. If you’re not learning, you’re dying. Always find something new to learn — even if that’s another programming languages, framework, whatever. But never be satisfied with the knowledge you have today. The best companies hire learners.
  10. Pass it on. Be a mentor, teacher, trainer, helper to someone a couple of steps behind you. Some of the richest rewards of my career have been doing this for others. When you do this for others, people take notice. It’s multiplying yourself and that’s a hot commodity in the world of software.

OK, those are some of my top 10 pieces of career advice in a nutshell. But you can also see the 4,000-word expanded book in draft form here, including commenting on it to help me make it better, more clearer and more helpful for you.

Want more?

If you’re interested in getting that when I can flesh it out … be sure to signup here (plus you’ll also get my other ebooks). You can also

If you have some input, suggestions, ideas, please put them in the comments on this post, or hit my contact form. 


10 replies on “Dear Developers, Here’s Some Advice For Your Career”

This entire list is gold – there’s just not much to add to this. I could just emphasize every point, but one that rings especially true to me is #2.

Over the last 10+ years, I’ve never needed to worry about a resumé or the fact that I didn’t graduate high school, let alone college. Open source contribution, in our line of work, is significantly more weighty than academic credentials. Both have their place, but don’t skimp on giving back. Generosity in community pays significant dividends.

Great advice Cory.
I must admit, getting out and networking has been one point I have failed at. However as I am reducing my work load at uni next semester so I can hopefully be working more (currently looking for work) I will take your advice and get to a few events.

Ryan, I agree it seems like a boring place, but I’d encourage you to at least have a presence and start connecting with people you meet in person on LinkedIn as well … and here’s why: They are there when you are looking and you get see who they are connected to. You never know when you might need them and I’ve found it is a great place to see who is connected to who.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *